January 2009

Posted on January 31, 2009 in Archives

January 31, 2009 Bistro Fare

It’s been a long month and I’m not sorry to see it end. I don’t think we’ve had a single day without freezing termperatures, I lost two friends, and there has been the added annoyance of year-end bookkeeping and tax records to attend to. January did have its high points, most notably the inauguration of President Obama, and, although many of my oldest friends were in town for memorial services, at least I got to see them. We also met our friends Seth and Susie at Bistro d’Oc one night for dinner, and that’s always a treat, both seeing them and dining in this casual French restaurant, one of our favorites anywhere. Seth and Susie go to France every year, and they, too, find Bistro d’Oc to be one of the most authentic French bistros stateside.

Though I rarely write about restaurants, I’ve written about Bistro d’Oc before (see July 27, 2008). I am always amazed that it doesn’t make other food writers’ lists of favorites, but perhaps I shouldn’t be since it has all of the things I like most about restaurants (delicious, unpretentious food; a reasonably priced list of wines that complements the fare; friendly, professional, but not overly fawning service; and a casual, warm atmosphere) and none of the things that I don’t (bizarre flavor combinations [I don't want to be entertained by a chef's cleverness, but simply comforted by his food], overstylized plates, too much money spent on the place and advertising, inflated prices and attitudes, and deafening noise levels).

I’ve never met the chef/owner, Bernard Grenier, whose Languedocien roots are evident in many of the dishes. His métier is cooking, not networking. Would that other chefs spent more time cultivating skills like Grenier’s in lieu of their celebrity status. I have been wowed by the architecture and interior design in many DC restaurants, only to be underwhelmed by the food. I met Phyllis Richman, the former restaurant critic of the Washington Post, at Wolfgang Puck’s Source, in the Newseum building a few weeks back, and was astounded at just how bad the food was. Yes, we were eating from the bar menu before going to a book party, but we sampled several things that I found downright disgusting — the sticky sweet chicken wings that tasted as though they had ordered them from the cheapest Chinese takeout, mushy sliders drowned in sweet onion marmalade, and, most offensive because it is Puck’s signature creation, a mediocre, greasy pizza with a soggy crust.

Grenier’s wife is Thai, as are many of the wait staff, and their son Benoit seems to live there, front and center, and always with a smile. He told me that the inauguration had seen them working nonstop to feed the masses, and yet, on the Saturday night afterwards, he was as charming as ever and the food, simply perfect. I’ve yet to taste anyone else’s petit salé or homemade blood sausage as good. Come to think of it, I don’t know anywhere else you can even find these wonderful dishes.

An aside: When I was working on the translation of Cochon & Fils for Phaidon Press, I had to figure out ways to make some of the French cuts of pork available for the American cook. You can’t go buy a “petit salé” in your local butcher shop (if, indeed you have a local butcher!). The petit salé that they serve at Bistro d’Oc is presented on a bed of lentils, a classic preparation that involves slowly baking a jarret demi-sel, a brined shank that you can actually buy in France. Here’s how to brine your own:

Brining

You can brine all cuts of pork with this. Pork chops take about 12 hours; an entire loin takes 4 days. Put the cut of meat in a nonreactive container such as a glazed pottery crock, a plastic or stainless steel bowl, or a heavy plastic freezer bag. Fill the container with enough water to cover the meat then pour off the water and measure it. For every three quarts of spring water, add 3/4 pound sea salt, 3/4 pound brown sugar, 1 tablespoon peppercorns and 2 bay leaves. Stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Cover the meat with the solution and refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 4 days. Drain and completely dry the meat before using.

At Bistro d’Oc, be sure to order some of Grenier’s charcuterie. His apple- and red pepper-enhanced blood sausage is a joy, as are his rillettes and pâtés. I’ve provided recipes for my own versions of these dishes elsewhere on the blog. Check the Index (an ever-changing project that I’m still working on. All of the links are not hot, but you can find the dated entries in Archives).

I can be a lazy cook on Friday nights, and last night was no exception. I had been making candy yesterday and had had a long day of phone calls and bookkeeping. But I knew that I had beautiful quail, duck fat, olives, and tiny Yukon Gold potatoes, so I stuffed the birds with olives and garlic and tossed them and the potatoes and olives with duck fat and roasted them in a hot oven. No trussing of the birds, no frills. But, like all good bistro fare, the meal was simply delicious.

January 29, 2009 Leftovers

Okay, so I didn’t make the benne brittle, but I did make the butter pecan ice cream. And I roasted a bunch of pecans for a friend who brought me mastic honey from Greece, which I used to flavor them, along with crushed red pepper flakes (we grew the peppers), salt, soy sauce, ginger, Amontillado sherry, and some freshly ground spices.

And I made dinner from leftovers, of which I’m not a fan. I shop almost every day for almost every meal and I try to cook just the amount I need for each meal, with nothing left over. There are some dishes, however, that I always make for a crowd, whether or not I have one here to dine. Lasagna, soups and stews, and hickory-smoked barbecue come to mind, all of which are resting in my freezer, awaiting the next group of guests.

 

A few days ago I cooked duck breasts (see January 23, 2009 at Readers’ Comments) and made sweet potatoes with horseradish (the recipe appears here) and wilted collards (see December 17, 2007)  to serve alongside. Neither Mikel nor I were very hungry, though, so I was left with an extra magret, extra sweet potatoes, and extra greens. I had also just made duck confit (see July 1, 2008), and had an extra jar of duck fat, along with the salarque, the meat juices that seep from the duck while cooking (the jar to the left has strained duck fat on top and salarque in the bottom).

 

About salarque: if you search for the term online, every mention of it will be plagiarized from Paul Wolfert’s excellent book The Cooking of South-West France. Paula suggests that you put salt in the bottom of your jars of confit to keep the juices from souring, but I let the legs drain through a fine sieve before I  store them in fat, and I cook with the salarque from the cooking of the duck legs. This is actually a glace de canard, a thick, gelatinous essence of duck that would take you a full day of reducing duck stock to obtain. Yet another reason to make confit! (See photo.) Glaces de viande made from reduced stocks are perhaps the secret of many chefs’ kitchens. You’ve heard of glace de veau and demi-glace (veal stock reduced with espagnole sauce, mushrooms, andMadeira). I think duck glace is infinitely tastier!

 

Opening my fridge, I also found an opened package of wonton skins, so I mashed the sweet potatoes to fill ravioli not unlike the ones I wrote about on November 12.

I will cook the ravioli briefly in boiling water, then dress them with a sauce made from the reduced salarque, tossing in slivers of the duck breast and leftover collards at the last minute just to warm through. Because both the salarque and the collards are already intensely flavored and salted, I will whisk in a tab of butter to smooth out both texture and flavor.

My sister Sue says that I’m at my best in the kitchen when I ad-lib like this, that my real gift is the ability to open anyone’s refrigerator and make a feast from seemingly nothing. I’ve always liked Italian duck ragu and I’ve had it served with pumpkin ravioli inItaly. I’ve also always liked sweet potatoes with horseradish alongside duck. As you see from the photos, everything turned out just fine.

Do note that that salarque from confit is likely to be very salty. Be sure to strain it well (I use a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth) to remove the tiniest remaining bits of ground spices, so that your finished sauce is elegant and clear. As I reduced the salarque, I whisked in a bit of butter.

January 28, 2009 An icy day in Washington: perfect for ice cream!

While DC has been having winter weather for the past several weeks (if you watched the Inauguration on television you probably heard how bitter it’s been lately), we hadn’t really had any snow or ice. Then yesterday we woke up to a blanket of snow and it continued through the day. Late in the afternoon the snow turned to sleet, so this morning everything is covered with an inch or two of ice. What a mess!

What always amazes me, although it always happens, is that only when it’s cold like this do I crave seriously cold foods — ice cream and oysters on the half shell, for example. Perhaps because I grew up gathering my own oysters at low tide on the banks of lowcountry estuaries in the winter months (which, though never cold by northern standards, always feel much colder to me because of the high humidity), I associate eating them with very cold weather (and since we invariably eat them outside, opening them ourselves, I often find myself outdoors in the winter months, prying into the salty bivalves with abandon, snow be damned!) Or perhaps because it’s cold, the cold food doesn’t bother me the way it does in the summer. Other than a margarita, I don’t even like ice in my drinks, and never drink “frozen ones”!

Knowing that today would be an awful mess, I went out yesterday in the snowstorm to run my errands so that I wouldn’t have to leave the house for a few days except to walk the dog. So what will I do today? Make ice cream, of course!

I plan to make two flavors: benne brittle and butter pecan. The recipes follow, but I will follow up with any tips I think of or photos I’m inspired to take during the preparation of the dishes.

Benne Brittle Ice Cream in a Benne Cookie Cup (from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking)

           

My benne ice cream, while not traditional, is served on a simple benne wafer and topped with a sprinkling of crushed brittle. The ice cream is made like a classic French glace flavored with praline (brittle) powder. Do not try this recipe on a humid day, however, or you will end up with a soggy cookie and rubbery brittle. First, make a sesame brittle by slowing melting a cup of sugar in a heavy skillet, then adding a cup of toasted benne and a half-teaspoon of vanilla extract. Stir quickly together then pour out onto a greased marble slab or into a greased cake pan to cool. When the candy is thoroughly cooled, break it up with a mallet or a rolling pin, and grind a cup of the brittle into a powder in a blender, a spice mill, or a food processor. Leave the rest of the brittle in bite-size chunks to garnish the ice cream.

 

Benne Cookie Cups

           

This recipe is made like a French wafer or tuile, replacing the ground almonds with sesame seeds. You will need a half-dozen inverted custard cups or glasses on which to mold the cookies into cups. The recipe should make 18 cookie cups, but it is a very tricky recipe which varies greatly with the flours and ovens used and  the humidity of the day. You may wish to bake the cookies slowly, at 350o, for about 10 minutes, or allow them to cool on the baking sheet for a moment before molding them. Try a small batch first according to the following recipe.

                       

4 tablespoons butter at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 egg whites at room temperature

5 tablespoons flour

1/3 cup benne (sesame seeds)

Preheat the oven to 425o degrees. Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer bowl at medium high speed until it is very light and fluffy. Gradually add the egg whites a little at a time and continue beating until they are well incorporated into the butter and sugar. Sift the flour into the batter, continue beating at a lower speed, then fold in the benne with a spatula.

 

Make mounds of a heaping tablespoon each of the batter at 3″ intervals on a greased baking  sheet. Spread each mound out evenly into a 3″ circle. Do not crowd the cookies, as they will spread.

Bake at 425o for 4 to 6 minutes, or until they have browned on the edges about 1/2″ in, but with the centers still creamy white. Remove from  the oven and, with a spatula, remove the cookies while they are still pliable from the baking sheet and place them on the inverted cups, gentling pressing them into the desired shape.

                                

Benne Brittle Ice Cream

           

This recipe makes a quart of an ice cream that will become one of your favorites. It is very simple to make. Save the egg whites; you can freeze them and thaw them at room temperature. I put a piece of tape on the freezer container and add hatch marks as I add egg whites. When I have 10 or so, I make an angel food cake, the perfect accompaniment to French-style ice creams like this one (when you’re not making cookies!) that are based on a cooked custard using only the yolks.

2 cups milk

6 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup whipping cream

1 cup benne brittle, ground to a fine powder (see instructions, above)

 

Make a custard as follows: Scald the milk in a saucepan and remove from the fire. Beat the egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer until they are very light colored. Add the sugar and continue beating until doubled in size. Gradually add some of the scalded milk to the egg mixture, then pour the eggs into the milk in the saucepan and cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a spoon, about 8 to 10 minutes.

           

Add the cream to the custard, cool, and chill. When thoroughly chilled, add the benne praline powder to the custard and freeze the ice cream according to the maufacturer’s instructions on your ice cream churn.

           

Serve the benne brittle ice cream in a benne cookie cup, and garnish each serving with a sprinkling of benne brittle broken into morsels.

 

French Vanilla Ice Cream and Variations (from The New Southern Cook)

 

This luscious ice cream is the classic recipe that spread across the South as early as fifty years before the invention of commercial ice-making machinery. By the time Mary Randolph, for example, published The Virginia Housewife in 1824, she was well enough versed in the fine art of ice cream making to chastise those “indolent cooks” who would not properly churn the custard. In the 1825 edition of her classic cookbook, she included a design for a home refrigerator, though mechanical refrigeration was yet to be invented. Ice, however, was widely available in the larger cities of the South in the late eighteenth century. From this basic, rich recipe there followed dozens of variations. Some suggestions follow the recipe. Remember to save the egg whites for Angel Food Cake. Tuck the scraped vanilla bean into a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar.

                       

1 vanilla bean

2 cups milk

6 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup cream or crème fraîche

Scrape the seeds from the inside of the vanilla bean into the milk. Scald the milk in a heavy saucepan and remove from the heat. Beat the yolks in a bowl (by hand or with a mixer) until they are very light-colored. Add the sugar and continue beating until doubled in volume. Gradually add some of the scalded milk to the egg mixture, then pour the eggs into the milk in the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a spoon, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the cream or crème fraîche to the custard, cool, and chill. When thoroughly chilled, freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Makes 1 quart, about 6 servings.

Variations:

Butter Pecan Ice Cream: Salty nuts play off the rich cream base  in this southern favorite. Simply fold the salted nuts into the French Vanilla Ice Cream above or into your favorite commercial brand. For the nuts, sauté 1 cup of pecans with 2 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 teaspoon salt for a few minutes, then roast in a 300  oven for 20 minutes, or until brown.

 

 

Peach Ice Cream: Omit the vanilla (you may add a little almond extract if you wish), and add 8 to 10 peaches, peeled, stoned, crushed, and chilled, to the custard before freezing.

 

 

Coconut Ice Cream: Omit the vanilla and add a cup of freshly grated coconut to the milk before scalding.

 

Praline Ice Cream (like the Benne Brittle Ice Cream, above): Using your favorite brittle recipe, grind

1 cup of praline powder from the candy. Fold into the custard before freezing.

 

Banana Rum Raisin: Add 1 cup of mashed ripe bananas and 1/2 cup of golden raisins soaked in rum to the custard before freezing.

Candied Ginger Ice Cream: Add 1/2 cup chopped candied ginger to the scalded milk and continue with the recipe. When softly frozen, whip an additional 1-1/2 cups of cream to soft peaks, and add to the ice cream freezer, then continue churning until evenly frozen.

 

January 27, 2009 Chicken Country Captain

I’ve written about this celebrated dish of the coastal South many times before, as have others, and have served it to my most illustrious dinner guests, including Diana Kennedy and Elizabeth Schneider. I don’t own the dish any more than any Marylander owns Crab Imperial. But at least I know my history.

The New York Times Sunday Magazine on Sunday ran an article on Country Captain that I found to be ludicrous. It was called ”The Cheat: Master Class.” From its opening sentence in which Charleston is invoked by “the scent of jessamine rich in the soft coastal air,” I knew that I was in treacherous territory. Dictionaries will tell you that “jessamine” is a synonym of “jasmine,” but the state flower of South Carolina is the native Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), which has no fragrance, and we have always spelled it that way to distinguish it from the imported jasmines (Jasminum) with their sickly sweet odors. I am reminded of my friend Libby Fraser Huger of those two old lowcountry families, who, when she went to school and was told by her new teacher “from off” (as we say) to spell her name and then pronounce it, she said, “H U G E R: yu-gee.” The next day at school the teacher called her name: “Libby Hug-a-rug.” No one in South Carolina spells the scented jasmines with an “e” and two “s”s. And everyone knows to pronounce Huger, “Yu-Gee.”

The author then continued with the currently popular and seemingly necessary deconstruction of the dish, including John T Edge’s description of it as “in the very best sense a Southern woman’s dish, devoid of macho chef-man technique and frippery.” Well, duh. What great dish in the southern repertoire isn’t? This isn’t chefs’ food we’re talking about here, though Robert Stehling of Charleston’s Hominy Grill, which the New York Times loves to write about, does serve a version.

Sam Sifton, the author of the article, then does his readers the disservice of describing the dish: “It is, simply, chicken fried in butter or bacon fat, then stewed in the oven with tomatoes fragrant with curry and pepper and served over white Carolina rice.”

I beg to differ. There is nothing simple about Chicken Country Captain, and our earliest recipes all call for poaching the chicken, and making your own curry powder, and serving it with a groaning board of homemade accompaniments, the way the curried rice dish would have been served in its homeland of northern India.

Sifton then adds insult to injury by libelling the very women to whom Edge attributes the dish: “Even in a city of great home cooks, though, there are few who can match Stehling for creating depth of flavor.”

EXCUSE ME?! I’m sorry, but I have had the Hominy’s version on several occasions and it’s fine, but how on earth would Sifton know what the home cooks’ versions in Charleston are like? The one I published in my first book was developed after watching several superior home cooks in Charleston prepare it with loving care, without the aid of those Junior League books he cites and, indeed, with “condiments galore,” but hardly so that their versions “make up the grade,” but because they are an integral part of the dish, as they have always been. I like Robert Stehling and I like his restaurant a lot, but I’ll put my own version up against his any day of the week.

Crucial to the dish, as my former editor Fran McCullough noted in an email, is making your own curry mixture. The New York Times version calls for “curry powder,” unknown in India.

And those condiments! My instructions say, “Serve with Lowcountry Pickle Mix, Dilly Beans, fried eggplant, and traditional curry accompaniments such as roasted peanuts, freshly grated coconut, and a sweet-and-sour condiment such as Pear Chutney,” the recipes for all of which appear in my book.

But what gets me more than anything about the article is the shoddy history: “In 1991, Molly O’Neill, the indefatigable author of this magazine’s food column for many years, traced Country Captain’s origins back not to the South but to ‘Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book,’ published in Philadelphia in 1857, and to the kitchen of Alessandro Filippini, the chef at Delmonico’s on Wall Street in the 19th century.”

Where do I begin? Bill Neal in 1985 and John Egerton in 1987 had previously noted Miss Leslie’s published recipe. But where in this country but in the rice-growing South would she have had this dish?

Prior to Miss Leslie, Mary Randolph published her recipe for curried chicken in the East Indian manner in The Virginia House-Wife in 1824. It relies heavily on Hannah Glasse’s “To Make a Currey the Indian Way” from The Art of Cookery (1747). The chicken is traditionally poached to make a stock, in which the rice is then cooked. The recipe and headnotes published in the Times are decidedly a cheater’s versions. On just about all counts.

January 26, 2009 Heritage Pork Tasting and more about Sicily

Over the weekend I had some interesting email exchanges with reader Catarina Burke of Massachusetts. You can read them at Readers’ Comments. We wrote about our trips to Sicily and I posted some duck recipes.

This morning I’m driving back out to Ayrshire Farm for another tasting, this time of 8 breeds of heritage pork. I’ll be reporting back later. And on yesterday’s ludicrous story about Chicken Country Captain in the New York Times Sunday Magazine!

The two shots above were taken out at Ayrshire Farm in Virginia, about an hour and a half west of D.C., where multimillionaires own huge estates, largely given over to horse farms. The shot on the left was taken at the turkey tasting I attended in November; the one on the right, today at the pork tasting (with a winter storm approaching).

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There was not much contest as to which heritage breed of pork was preferred: the Mulefoot and the Gloucestershire Old Spot were the clear crowd favorites. The one commercial breed thrown in for good measure I found to have an “off” taste. (The tasting was “blind.”) And one breed, the Large Black, was disliked by all.

I must point out, however, that the tasting, though blind (the breeds were identified only by a number) was hardly a scientific experiment. Although the chefs had the same cut of meat from each hog (the Boston Butt, which is the fatty shoulder), and slow-roasted them all in a low oven overnight with no seasoning, none of the hogs were raised under same conditions and we knew nothing of the feeding, butchering, storage, or shipping. The Ayrshire chef told me that the Large Black smelled like a barnyard to him before he cooked it, which is what the person standing next to me during the tasting said of the commercial meat, cooked. I thought that the Mulefoot had the most appealing aroma, but I loved the lingering aftertaste and the dark flesh of the Gloucestershire Old Spot, an “old orchard” or ”bacon type” breed developed in England prior to the 19th Century. “Old orchard” because they are allowed to roam the orchards, woods, and fields after harvest, foraging for leftover fruits, nuts, berries, and vegetables.

Since the Large Black is a foraging pig unsuitable for confinement, it was nearly extinct by the 1960s. I wonder what it had been living on prior to our tasting. Its “maroon” flesh I found to smell “barnlike” and to taste “sweet, like horseflesh.”

I avoid arguments with food fanatics who insist on “fresh and local” without regard to geographical location, who insist on lambasting transgenics without being able to describe what a gene is, or who cling to the word “organic” without considering its full meaning. And I myself love to proclaim the wonders of tasty, heirloom varieties of plants and animals, my own corn products included. But there are reasons that some of the older varieties have died out, and some of them, I dare to say, have disappeared not because of agribusiness, but simply because they were neither practical to raise nor tasty enough to bother with. Since the Large Black appears to have been neither, I would imagine its demise has to do with those factors as much as the evil corporations who provide most Americans with most of their food.

I had tasted my share of Tamworths, Middle Whites, Old Spots, and Berkshires prior to this event (mostly in London), and loved every bite of them. The Tamworth at Ayrshire, according to my notes, was “stringy and a little tough, though delicious.”

Cochon, Herbsaint, and Bayona restaurants in New Orleans use several of these heirloom breeds (as well as my delicious corn products). Be sure to check them out! And encourage your local restaurants to try some of these heirloom breeds!

I just got off the phone with Stephen Stryjewski, the chef at Cochon, and he raved about the Mulefoot (“perfect for hams”),  the American Guinea Hog (“nice ratio of meat to rind, good intramuscular fat”), and the Red Wattle (“a square hog, big neck and big ass”), some of which he gets from Maveric Heritage Ranch, which had provided the favored Mulefoot for the tasting. Stephen told me that they feed their hogs squash so as to avoid the “commercial” taste of corn-fed hogs. (Incidentally, the Red Wattle and the Guinea were my other favorites!)

(In an email to me that Stephen sent me after he read this posting, he noted: I haven’t gotten a Red Wattle from Arie [McFarlen, of Maveric]. I used to get them from Dan Crutchfield, this guy that started growing rabbits for Pau Prudhomme years ago.  He grew Red Wattles for us at Herbsaint long before we knew it was a “rare breed”.  He retired from the rabbit business long ago and the hog business because of Katrina, he had planted acres of pine on his land when he first homesteaded and decided that it was a good time to build a sawmill and harvest his pine forest.  Dan was a very interesting man, he also grew edible flowers and bred AKC winning pit bulls.  Arie feeds her hogs squash because her land is surrounded by commercial growers of genetically engineered corn and she can not grow her own corn without some cross pollination.  Their grazing is supplemented with winter squash.  She is a great woman to speak to as is her husband that I just met.  He is a rocket scientist for NASA.  No shit.  Their work is noble I hope that you can spread their word.”)

The tasting was sponsored by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Humane Farm Animal Care, Slow Food USA, and Ayrshire Farm.

The ALBC website provides lots of information on the breeds and where you can buy them. Most of the breeds that we tasted are in a critical state of existence; others are threatened. In 2006, for example, there were only 200 known purebred Mulefoots alive. An old American favorite, it is the only pig breed native to North America, according to the folks at Maveric. A medium built, lop-eared, ham and lard pig, it was the ham hog of the early nineteenth century. It has a single toe similar to horses (not cloven); hence, the name. I sent this blog to Marjorie Bender of the ALBC and she wrote me back:

Hi, John. 
I’m glad you were able to attend the pork tasting at Ayrshire. What a beautiful place! Unfortunately our Marketing & Communications Manager, who was to attend, caught the flu from her hubby and was in no shape to travel.  I’ve cc’d her as she may want share your thoughts in ALBC press.
I’m sorry to hear the Large Black was such a disappointment.  I’ve had Large Black pork and LOVED it, so I hope folks don’t relegate it to the extinction pile just yet. I do wonder how that particular pig was raised, fed, butchered, shipped, etc, and the conditions in each circumstance.  I also wonder what its living conditions had been in the 2-3 weeks prior to butchering.  I went to a local pig picking several years ago and had a similar experience – I thought I was eating the barn yard. YUCK! 
You’re right to note that this wasn’t a scientific tasting.  In addition to the items you listed, each breed was represented by a single pig raised on a unique farm. While it’s tempting to generalize, it’s not really appropriate. In time, we’ll be able to do a side-by-side comparison of a single breed, raised under identical circumstances.
I’m going to send out an email to my Large Black contacts to see if we can provide you with another opportunity to taste this pork.

 
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Paul Kirk who is on the Board of the Kansas City BBQ Society and Executive Chef for RUB(913-262-6029, pkirk@kcbs.us)  Paul will be comparing 4 of the rare pork breeds. You may be interested in talking to him about his experience as well.
On pig origin – pigs were introduced to the Americas first the Spanish explorers, and later by colonists of other nationalities. While it is true that the Mulefoot was developed here in the US, a number of other breeds found their beginnings here, too. Additional rare American breeds are the Guinea Hog, Hereford, Ossabaw Island, and  Red Wattle, DNA samples from Mulefoot and Guinea hogs were recently part of a study conducted by the University of Cordoba, Spain.  Analysis showed that the Mulefoot is related to the Iberian breeds, linking them to the early Spanish pigs. The Guinea hogs were not closely related to anything else that was tested which included Iberain, Latin American, Black Canary Island breeds, and Duroc. This information doesn’t make the Mulefoot any less valuable as a genetic resource or to the culinary world. It simply sheds some light on it’s long forgotten ancestors.
Current access to products is through the ALBC Breeders and Products Directory, which is a benefit of membership. Folks can also find many of these breeds listed by farmers on LocalHarvest.com.
Thanks again, John.
Marjie
Marjorie Bender
Research & Technical Program Director
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
PO Box 477
Pittsboro, NC  27312
Phone: 919-542-5704
Ensuring the future of agriculture through genetic conservation and the promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry.

January 22, 2009 A New American Era

By all reckoning, we are entering a new American era. Hopefully the transparency of government that President Obama promises will rekindle trust in the citizenry and we will all accept the tough responsibilities that these troubling times are going to demand. I was thrilled to see the White House website actually addressing the concerns of the LGBT community. (See here.)

I’ve had out of town guests and have cooked a lot lately, though I haven’t posted, since we have been busy with the Inauguration festivities. Of all the many foods that I often prepare, probably none is more popular than the simple Italian fruit tarts — crostate — that I often make. Nothing could be simpler, and you can fill them with jam, canned fruit, fresh fruits, poached fruits, rehydrated dried fruits, or purees. One I recently made was filled with prune lekvar, a puree of stewed prunes that I enlivened with a little orange zest and freshly squeezed juice. Lekvar is a Hungarian word, and they’re very simple to make, though the ones sold in jars are delicious as well.

The simple pasta frolla, or Italian short (literally, “tender”) dough is laughably easy to prepare. There are many variations, as Carol Field notes in her brilliant The Italian Baker (Harper & Row, 1985): “The most common proportions seem to be 2 parts flour to 1 part butter and 1 part sugar or 3 parts flour to 2 parts butter and 1 part sugar.” I often add some lemon zest and juice to the dough, depending on the fruit that I am going to add. I am particularly fond of sour cherries, which I put up myself. (See June 2, 2008.) You can also use the dough for cookies.

The photos show the recipe in progress.

Pasta Frolla (Italian Short Pastry for tarts and cookies)

2-1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

pinch of salt

14 tablespoons (1-3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, diced

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk (or one or more of the following)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (optional)

grated zest of one lemon (optional)

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor and process to blend well together. Add the butter and process in short bursts until the butter is evenly incorporated into the mixture. It will resemble coarse meal. Do not overprocess or the butter will melt and the dough will be tough.

Mix the egg with the yolk and/or the seasoning and, with the processor running, add the egg mixture by pouring it in a steady stream. Let the processor do the work and when the dough comes together on top of the blades, stop the machine and dump the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface and pat it together into a ball.

Butter a 10″ tart pan. Cut off 2/3 of the dough and roll it out slightly larger than the pan. Carefully lift it up on your rolling pin and place it down in the pan. Do not stretch the dough, but lift up the outer edges and fold them over into the edges, working gently. Roll the pin over the top to cut off excess dough, then gently push the thick dough up above the rim with your fingertips and roll the pin over the tart again to cut off excess. Now gently push the tart dough into place, once again raising the edge up over the side of the pan. Push the remaining dough together and flatten into a disk about 5 or 6 inches in diameter. Wrap the disk in wax paper and place it inside the tart shell and refrigerate for at least an hour but no longer than 24. If you are leaving the dough in the refrigerator for more than an hour, wrap the entire tart shell with the disk of dough well so that it doesn’t dry out.

Preheat the oven to 425o. Remove the tart shell and disk from the refrigerator and place the disk, still wrapped in wax paper, on the floured counter. Prick the tart shell in several places. Blind bake the tart shell by lining it with wax paper, parchment, or aluminum foil, filling it with rice, dried beans, or pie weights, and baking for 10 minutes. Remove the paper or foil and the weights, turn the oven down to 375o, and baking for another 5 to 7 minutes.

Crostata (Fruit-filled Tart)

You can fill the tart dough with a meringue, with soft fruit, with jam, or with lekvar (see text, above).

Partially baked tart shell (see above) and reserved disk of dough

egg white (optional)

3 cups jam, or soft or poached fruit, lekvar

     or rehydrated dried fruit

1/2 cup apricot glaze (made by melting apricot preserves with a little water, lemon juice, or brandy,

        then straining the mixture)

Preheat the oven to 400o. Fill the partially baked tart shell with fruit, adding a little juice if the fruit is canned. (If the tart filling is juicy, I often brush the inside of the tart shell with beaten egg white to form a seal.)

Roll out the disk of remaining dough the size of the tart and cut the dough into strips. Make a lattice top for the tart by placing them on the diagonal across the tart, gently pressing the strips into the edges of the tart shell.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the lattice is golden brown. Brush the top immediately with the glaze.

January 16, 2008 Broccoli Cornbread and Meyer Lemon Marmalade

I don’t make many casseroles. Occasionally I’ll make a lasagna dish, or a simple squash casserole, but never have I made the composed dishes that Americans call casseroles and that often include cans of soup, frozen vegetables, and canned onion rings. At my friend Joe’s memorial service at Foundry Methodist Church (see below) here in DC on Sunday, I thought that the food that the church ladies had made was remarkably good. I saw very few casseroles. Last summer when we were visiting family in South Carolina, Mikel’s mother served a broccoli cornbread that I thought was unusually tasty for the genre. She gave me the recipe: melt a stick of butter and add 4 eggs, 8 ounces of cottage cheese, 1 package of corn muffin mix, onions, and 16 ounces of frozen broccoli florets. I decided to make it, using all fresh ingredients.

Broccoli Cornbread

I went to the grocery store and read the muffin mix ingredients: flour, sugar, cornmeal, and leavening. I decided to make my own using my own cornmeal, and, like my cornbread, no sugar or wheat flour.

I bought 1-1/2 lbs of broccoli crowns and removed all stems, making it a pound. I placed the florets in a 9″ by 13″ Pyrex casserole, added a little water, covered them with plastic wrap, and zapped them in the microwave for two 3-minute intervals on high, tossing them about between zaps. I poured off the water and then added my own batter of 1 stick melted butter; 4 eggs; 8 ounces of cottage cheese; 1 chopped onion; 1 cup cornmeal mixed with 1/2 teaspoons each of baking powder, baking soda, and salt; and 1 cup of buttermilk. I poured the batter over the broccoli and baked it in a 375o oven for about 35 minutes. Delicious.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

Marmalade is easy to make, but it will not gel without pectin. Some folks add pectin to their jams and jellies of fruits that don’t have enough on their own, but I always prefer to use a fresh source. With citrus, there is plenty in the seeds, but you don’t want to seeds in your marmalade, so most recipes tell you to remove them and to tie them up in cheesecloth. You can do that, but I use a stainless steel tea ball, working over bowls to catch any precious juice. (See photo.) You will need enough sterilized jars and lids to hold 3 pints for this recipe. I happen to have 2 half-pint jars and 2 pint jars, so that’s what I used.

6-8 Meyer Lemons (or 1-1/2 pounds)

4 cups water

4 cups sugar

Cut the lemons in half crosswise and remove the seeds, working over a bowl so as not to lose any juice. Gather the seeds in a nonreactive tea ball or in cheesecloth. Quarter the lemons, carefully removing any seeds you find as you slice and chop the lemons into the size chunks you want in your finished product. Cover the chopped, seeded lemons with the water in a nonreactive container and allow to stand for 24 hours, covered, at room temperature.

Bring the lemon/water mixture to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes, or until it is reduced to about 4 cups. Add the sugar and boil over medium heat. Stir it occasionally and remove any scum on the surface with, as my grandmother taught me, “a silver teaspoon.” Cook until a teaspoon of the jam on a cold plate gels (or until it reaches 220o), anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more (lemons vary widely in how many seeds they have, and the seeds will determine when the jellying point is reached. I highly advise that you use a thermometer. As the marmalade cooks, any seeds will rise to the surface. Use that teaspoon to lift them out.

Divide the marmalade while still hot among the jars, filling to 1/2″ from the top. Wipe the rims clean and secure the lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes, making sure that the jars are covered by at least an inch of boiling water.

Makes about 3 pints.

January 15, 2009:  Ann Davis Wilder

I can’t seem to shake an overpowering sense of sadness. Another dear friend died of a heart attack on Tuesday. Ann Davis Wilder was a southerner like me who loved her heritage but who never let her southernness define who she was. A world traveler and an excellent, adventurous cook, Ann was not satisfied with the spices she was able to find in the 1980s and so began Vann’s Spices, which was the first really “gourmet” spice company in America. Her company was recognized as a model small business, and she was given several awards acknowledging that fact over the years. I traveled with Ann to Sri Lanka two years ago (here’s the blog) and we both went at exotic foods (and arrack cocktails!) with gusto. She was what I like to call a “good eater,” never picky about anything but the quality of what she ate. She could tell the difference between real Sri Lankan cinnamon and the cassia species that passes for cinnamon in most of the world. By smell alone. I will miss my dear friend and dining companion. Here’s a photo of us in London, when we were being toured around Parliament by my friend David Evans, Lord Evans of Watford.

 

My sister Sue sent me a box full of Meyer lemons she grew, so I will be finding solace in making marmalade over the next couple of days. She’s burying her dog Savannah today. I’ll post photos and recipes later. And I’ll toast Ann and Joe (see below) and Savannah.

 

Every time I saw or talked to Ann, we always got on the subject of how and when we met. Neither of us could ever remember. Sometimes I would think that I had recalled the first time she walked in my store, and I would call her, only for her to say that she was never in my shop. Other times she might email me and say, “Wasn’t it at such-and-such convention?” (which I had never attended).

 

At my friend Joe’s wake (see below), we were all reminiscing about him, and I said to the crowd that I couldn’t remember when Joe and I first met, but that I know that it was my freshman year at the University of Georgia. Since I was still 17 when I began school, I can safely say that I have known him my entire adult life. I think it’s actually a tribute to both Joe and Ann that I just can’t imagine my life without them. Here’s a photo of Joe (left) and another college friend, David Thompson, at our New Year’s Day party in 2005. I didn’t know that they ever knew each other (I didn’t meet Dave until we were in grad school). Turns out they were in the same dormitory in 1967 when we were freshmen! Hundreds of friends (many from out of town) attended Joe’s memorial service at Foundry Methodist Church, and, at the end, there was a spontaneous standing ovation to our dear friend! I’ve never seen that happen in a church before, and certainly not at a funeral!

 

One good thing that happened this week: The New York Times ran an article on the up-and-coming neighborhoods of Washington, focusing largely on our friend Gillian Clark, who is opening several restaurants in D.C., one in our neighborhood.

 

January 9, 2009: Joseph Duncan Belew

 

Joe Belew, who has been President of the Consumer Bankers Association since 1987, died suddenly this week. He and I met when we were freshmen at the University of Georgia in 1967. He’s the first of our group of old college pals to go, and it seems ridiculously unfair to me and all of us that he, of all people, would be the one. He knew no malice, always had a smile and hug for everyone, and was without an iota of meanness. He leaves his loving wife of many years, Elaine Bunn, and their wonderful children, Duncan and Anna. We are all so saddened but are trying to celebrate his life while we mourn his death. I am beside myself, but I did manage to make a caramel cake yesterday. I kept thinking about Like Water for Chocolate and how the tears dripped into the cake batter.

 

I have Buddhist friends who have tried to get me to meditate, but I’m so hyper my mind is always wandering. One of those friends told me, “You do meditate! I’ve seen you cooking.” Yesterday while preparing some food to take over to Elaine’s, I had that tingly feeling all over, replete with goose pimples. It lasted for over an hour.

 

Four years ago I bought an orchid plant — probably at one of the big home improvement stores. It was covered with blooms at the time, but has not bloomed since, though I’ve had it in a perfect location, misting it and feeding it regularly. It has put out lots of new leaves over the years, but nary a bud. Out of nowhere, it bloomed on the day of Joe’s death. I’m not a religious person, but I can’t help but think that Joe’s spirit is in this wonderful flower.

 

Here is a letter Joe wrote to my father when I told Joe that Dad had been diagnosed with terminal cancer last summer. Shows just the sort of guy he was.

 

January 7, 2009

 

One of the meals I made during the last of week of the year was stuffed squid. I made it up as I went along, but here are my notes:

 

2 tablespoons olive, butter, or bacon grease

1 large clove garlic, peeled, the bitter green

shoot removed, and minced

1/4 lb. spinach, steamed, drained, and

chopped (you can use frozen, but it

must be thawed, drained, & chopped)

pinch of cayenne

1 salted anchovy, rinsed and chopped (or

2 teaspoons canned anchovies in oil)

Juice of a lemon

1/4 pound raw shrimp, peeled

1 pound cleaned small squid

 

I cooked the garlic, spinach, cayenne, and anchovy in bacon grease until the spinach was almost melted and there was no liquid left. I squeezed the juice of a lemon on the mixture, cooked for a minute or two longer, and spread the mixture on a plate and put it in the refrigerator to cool. I then pureed the shrimp in a food processor and added the cooled spinach mixture. I then put the mixture in a freezer bag, snipped off the end, and filled the squid bodies loosely with the mixture. It was exactly the right amount.

 

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, peeled, the green shoot removed, and thinly sliced

12 ounces (2 cups) cherry tomatoes

hot red pepper flakes

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley other fresh herbs to taste

 

I placed the olive oil in a flame-proof cazuela (a clay pot that can go on the stovetop; you can find them on latienda.com; be sure to get one with a lid) and added the tomatoes, garlic, and hot pepper flakes, and stirred it around over a very hot flame, then added the squid tentacles, stirred it around, turned off the heat, and placed the stuffed squid on top. I covered the pot and put it in a 350o oven for 30 minutes, then removed the lid and let it go for another 15 minutes while I cooked some pasta to go with.

 

When the pasta was done, I added it to bowls, took out the squid and tomatoes with a slotted spoon, and reduced the sauce on top of the stove, seasoning it one last time to taste and pouring it over the pasta and squid, and finally sprinkling it with the herbs.

Delicious!

 

 

 

A Winter Forum on Farm Systems Design at Airlie Farms

 

I hate that I’m going to miss this exciting forum at Airlie Farms, which I visited back in early October (see the blog for October 6, 2008).

 

The forum will feature in-depth looks at two innovative farms, Essex (of Essex, New York) and Half Pint (of Burlington, Vermont), and how their sustainable operations have flourished. Whether you’re a home gardener, a small farmer, a food policy expert, or a buyer and eater of local food, you’ll want to attend this unique event to learn about the key factors that make these farms so successful.

 

 

January 6, 2009

 

Ah, the New Year! So much paperwork to do and images to download and recipes to transcribe from my kitchen notes! But I’ll be adding new blog material soon!

Hope the New Year is a great one for all of you!

Recipes and photos to come soon. In the meantime, I’m also getting ready for Inauguration guests, including Thulani Davis and Jean-Sébastien Stehli, who was my editor when I wrote the food column for the French-language Ici New York monthly magazine 25 years ago.

The oysters are both Texan and Chesapeake from New Year’s Day. The oyster forks were a gift from my friend of many years, Tommy Adams.

 

We only had four people over on New Year’s this year and we served Eastern North Carolina style barbecue with homemade buns and slaw for sandwiches, plus the usual fare: mustard and collard greens cooked with smoked hog jowl, hoppin’ john, cornbread, and extra cowpeas for more pot likker.

I think all the recipes have appeared on the blog at one time or another. See Index, which I’m also updating with hot links.

 

Here’s also a shot of the greens being prepared to cook. I didn’t boil this, but sliced the jowl and rendered some of the fat out, then added handfuls of the cleaned collards with the water that clung to them, stirring constantly over high heat, and occasionally adding sprinkles of salt, slices of garlic, and some hot red pepper flakes. When the collards were all added and wilted, I then added the mustard greens, which don’t take as long to cook. When they are wilted, I turn down the heat and allow the greens to braise until they are done to my liking, about 15 minutes, finishing off the seasoning with a little lemon juice and/or hot pepper vinegar, which I also pass at the table.